A religious committee in Northern Lebanon called on local authorities to take action against the display of "inappropriate" and "scandalous" advertising billboards in Tripoli.

The Association of Muslim Scholars asked the local municipality to remove what they described as offensive soft drink ads that were raised throughout the city. They even took legal action, asking the local council to remove two billboards because they were displayed right outside mosques.

The latter complied and the billboard ads have since been taken down, sparking controversy on social media platforms.

This is not the first time the committee makes headlines. Their fatwa to ban Muslims from taking part in non-Islamic religious ceremonies, also sparked controversy last week. 

The committee's recent decisions have been drawing the ire of many, especially given the fact that Lebanon's 15 year civil war (1975-1990) has left behind generations who continue to live with sectarian fears.

After intense backlash they received over the billboard incident, the committee posted a statement to their Facebook page on Saturday, saying that "the billboards were not only taken down out of respect for religious or social norms but also out of respect for the common morals of people."

Following the controversy, the association and municipality spoke to local media

Speaking to local media on Sunday, Raid Hlaihel, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, described the backlash the committee has received recently as inexplicable.

He went on to say that even though the association finds it unacceptable to have such content on display across Lebanon, they only asked the municipality to remove ads that were right outside the mosques. 

Samih Halwani of Tripoli's municipality also spoke to local media, explaining that the local authority had taken legal action to ensure that no one in the city is offended.

He also added that the municipality is adamant on making sure that all  religions and social norms are respected.

People reacted on social media

The issue has been garnering increased media attention, especially over the past weekend, and many people have taken to social media platforms to express their opinions:

Some are simply outraged

"I just can't believe this. Who gave them right to monitor and dictate people's morals?"

"The world moves forward and you move towards ignorance, people have made it to Mars and beyond and the only thing you’ve reached is this… taking down billboard ads."

"The internet is accessible to every human being on earth, they can access anything they want on there… so enough of this silliness!! If there's nothing left for you to do, help those who are in need, make an effort to do anything positive rather than spreading this ignorance."  

Others defended the committee and municipality's decision

"Ads that were taken down in Tripoli were only removed from outside mosques."

"Lebanon's ministry of information should ban all ads that feature nudity across the country."

"If an ad features inappropriate or offensive content, it’s not necessary to display it near mosques or churches."

Regardless of any decision, Lebanese are adamant on coexistence

Even though sectarian fears remain, many in the country are setting a shining example in coexistence by refusing to accept any decision that could undermine it.

The most recent example of this is a recital held in Achrafieh's Basilique Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse church featuring a priest and a Sunni Muslim sheikh raising the adhan last month